Does policy need democracy?

A friend told me this morning that when he was in graduate school in public policy he mentioned to his advisor that he might opt for the concentration in public policy and democracy. His advisor advised him: “Don’t bother.”

“Is that because the school’s offerings in democracy were lame?” I asked. “Or because the idea he thought the idea was lame?”

The latter. Seems the adivsor didn’t see what democracy could possibly have to do with public policy.

This may be true in practice — but certainly not in theory (to turn a phrase of Kant’s).

If we want to take seriously democracy as a regulative idea — and I certainly do — then public policy should be grounded in an idea of democracy, at least if policy is not just for a public but in some way by a public.

Okay, maybe I am naive, the same way I was naive back when I enrolled in policy school, thinking that public policy might be something that actually has democratic, public aspirations. I was quickly disappointed, but my mission ever since has been to set this wrongheaded attitude right. Take that, Walter Lippmann.